YOU’LL NEVER KNOW…

We have written several times about the importance of congenital and heritable disorders in pets. As a matter of fact there are some diseases such as Shar-Pei Recurrent Fever Syndrome which are suffered by certain breeds almost exclusively. Knowing well all breed predispositions to diseases is a very powerful diagnosis tool. In some cases, predispositions are referred to a specific breed, and in some other cases, to a group of breeds (hip dysplasia in shepherd dogs).

Dog genome was sequenced 20 years ago, and since then we have learned a lot about their genetic diseases, and we have more and more resources for diagnosis and even prevention of these pathologies.

For genetic testing, a blood sample or even a swab from mouth membranes (same as CSI forensics) is required, so, initially, anyone can take the specimen at home, send it to the lab, and have the results in a few weeks.

But, why do I need to know about my dog’s DNA? Basically, for two reasons:

  • In order to confirm if it’s a pure breed dog, in case we want it to contest in a show, or maybe we have paid a lot of money for it.
  • To know if it carries a “dangerous” gene, such as hip dysplasia, any pharmacological hypersensitivity, retinal atrophy, etc.

In most cases, an experienced Vet can find out very accurately which breed the animal is, but considering there are more than 300 officially approved dog breeds, there are millions of possible combinations. Anyway, there are owners who want to know exactly which percentage of Mastiff or Labrador (for example) their dog has. Well, there are lots of websites where you can send a swab from your dog for performing a breed genetic diagnosis.

So far, so good. But the thing is “knowing your pet’s genetics”, has become a billion- dollar business, and there are more and more labs available. But, are they reliable? An article in Nature Magazine says textually: “it’s too easy for those businesses to sell false hope”.

A Vet from Harvard Bioethics Centre PhD Lisa Moses says it’s difficult to know how reliable they are, since they are not obliged to reveal their methodology. Dr Moses says Vets should NOT use that direct from-owner-to-lab genetic tests for taking medical decisions.

Some weeks ago WBZ News Channel from CBS performed an investigation about those labs, consisting of the columnist Christina Hager sending a specimen… from herself to 3 different labs. At least two of them were honest and reported “not enough dog DNA for performing the test”, but in the third one opinion, the columnist was “40% Alaskan Malamute, 35% Shar Pei and 25% Labrador”. Not too bad…

A similar experiment was made by a Canadian public TV channel. According to the results, a Great Dane was diagnosed as a Chihuahua, and the columnist himself had Beagle ancestors. Dear parents, we have to talk. Are you sure you didn’t adopt me??

Some other labs oblige you to, apart from the specimen, send a picture of the dog (LOL). Of course, sending an intentionally wrong picture implied hilarious results… So, the conclusion must be to consider all these dog DNA tests just as a business, nothing else.
Some info taken from Publico.es


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